Roman Forest mom, daughter grateful to rescuers who pulled them from flooded home during Imelda

Billy and Tonya Hazen lost their Roman Forest home during Tropical Storm Imelda. Tonya, the couple's 12-year-old daughter and their family dog, were plucked to safety by rescue boats after water filled their home.

By Vanesa Brashier,

A Roman Forest mom who was rescued from the rising water of Peach Creek during Hurricane Imelda says if not for the heroic actions of their rescuers, she and her 12-year-old daughter and pet dog likely would have been swept away.

On the morning of the storm, Sept. 19, Tonya Hazen recalls looking out at her backyard and noticing water quickly coming up.

“I thought, ‘Wow, that water is really rising fast. I opened the back door and the water was almost at the threshold. I went back inside and woke up my daughter. We didn’t have any TV reception because we have satellite TV and the signal was out,” she said.

Within moments, water was creeping into the house. When it got ankle deep, she called her husband, Billy, at work to alert him to the situation. By 11 a.m., the water had risen much higher, so she called her husband back to say that she was calling 911 to arrange a rescue. Knowing that her small car would be overtaken by the current, Hazen said a boat rescue was their only way to safety.

“The 911 operators told me they had boats out in my area and someone would be by. We grabbed some clothes and put them into plastic bags so they wouldn’t get wet. Before I knew it, the water was knee deep inside the house. We had no time to prepare,” she said.

Hazen and her daughter tried opening the back door of the house but water pressure against the door made that impossible. She began looking for windows she could raise to make an escape, however, the water pressure against the windows and doors kept them from being opened.

Hazen began to fear they would drown inside the home.

“When we couldn’t get out of the house, I started to panic but I couldn’t let my daughter know because she was being so brave. She had been crying at one point and I didn’t want her to be scared,” she said.

She believes that God helped restore her calm so she could think through their situation and find a way out through the top half of a storm door.

“We couldn’t open the door, so we waited until the water was high enough that we would climb out the top part of the storm door without injuring ourselves. I pushed my daughter out through the opening and she swam to our car. Then I pushed the dog out and he swam to my daughter,” Hazen said.

This was the view that greeted Daniel Ballard as he approached the Hazen home during Tropical Storm Imelda.

When it was her turn to flee the house, Hazen found a piece of floating debris inside the house to lift her up through the opening. Then she swam to her car where her daughter and dog were huddled together.

“At that point, we were standing on the roof of the car and the hood was already submerged. Then it started raining again, and I just said, ‘Oh God, no,'” she said.

With her daughter’s survival in mind, she came up with a plan to boost her onto the roof of their house, even if it meant that she herself might not survive.

“I thought that when the water got high enough, I could push my daughter onto the roof of the house and she could wait there for a rescue,” she said.

At that moment, an ill-equipped rescue party comprised of Officer Carlos Herrera and Roman Forest’s maintenance supervisor Mark Smith called out to her from a small boat powered by a troll motor. City Administrator Liz Mullane, who was helping to coordinate the city’s response, borrowed the boat from a resident.

Herrera, who is trained in swift water rescues, and Smith, an Army veteran, were the most equipped for the rescue, explained Roman Forest Police Chief Stephen Carlisle.

However, the rescue party soon found themselves in danger when the boat could not ferry them back to safety.

“The current was too strong for the boat, for the motor and the weight it was carrying. It was too much. The rescuers kept telling me that we were lucky, and I knew it. They kept saying, ‘Don’t worry. You are in a boat and you’re safe now,'” Hazen said. “Honestly I didn’t even know we were still in a situation until afterward.”

When the rescue party failed to show up back at the command center, Cpl. Greg Palmer, who was stationed on the other side of Peach Creek, flagged down a boat that was on its way to Patton Village to help with a rescue.

“He talked the boat owner, Daniel Ballard, into helping on our side of the creek. He found them and was able to rescue them and the boat,” said Roman Forest Police Chief Stephen Carlisle. “Had that guy not come along when he did, they might have been able to hang onto the house or climbed onto the roof to wait it out. I know for sure that had our guys not gone to rescue Mrs. Hazen and her daughter then, they would have drowned.”

Ballard, a construction company owner and firefighter from the League City area, was launching the boat from Roman Forest with his buddy, Richard Summers, also of League City, when he was approached by Cpl. Palmer. The pair were heading for Patton Village, along with another rescue boat piloted by Justin Lough of Huffman.

“We were out there all day doing rescues in Roman Forest and Patton Village. We did somewhere around 20 rescues that day,” Ballard said.

In two situations, Ballard’s boat was used to rescue the original rescue parties after their boats were outmatched by the current. In Patton Village, one group of rescuers had to be pulled from the water to safety by Ballard’s team after their boat was swept away.

“I don’t think most people expected the rain from this storm, but it seems like that area also doesn’t have the resources it needs for water rescues,” he said.

Recovery mode begins

The Hazens say they aren’t sure they will return to their house, which they bought in February. Tonya said they were told that the house had flooded during the extreme flooding of Hurricane Harvey but have since learned that the house flooded two times previously.

“We are looking at staying in an RV at a nearby RV park while we figure things out,” said Billy Hazen. The family’s dog is being kept by Billy’s parents at their home in Crockett.

Despite the loss of all their belongings, the Hazens feel blessed to be alive.

“It’s hard. There are pictures and things that I can’t replace. I am thankful that we are alive and God guided and protected us. He led me to that door when we needed to get out,” she said. “There are things that insurance can’t cover but everything else can be replaced. I am still processing it.”

The Hazens were not the only Roman Forest residents whose lives were impacted by the storm. Three homes and several businesses were destroyed by flooding, and dozens of other homes took on water.

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